I would love to travel back in time, but I know that it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. So instead, I’ll go on adventures with Claire Fraser in rough, tempestuous and totally sexy eighteenth century Scotland courtesy of Outlander (buy it, read it, watch it, love it – you’re welcome). It’s not quite the same thing, but since something as simple as flying scares the bejeezus out me, it’s definitely preferable. Plus, I have my own Scot. Yes, he owns a kilt. And yes, real men do wear skirts. When you stop and think about it though, we actually travel back in time quite often. When I wear my coral ring with a beautifully intricate filigree setting, I have a part of my great-grandmother with me — and I really feel that way. I look at it and can’t help but imagine what her life was like when she wore it. Vintage or antique items are unique and incredibly special in that they give us a peek into the past without the risk of say, getting stuck in the Highlands (seriously, read the book). And when it comes to all things vintage and glorious, Liz Geddes of Octavia + Brown is your go-to girl. She is an antiquing extraordinaire with a showroom that’ll make you swoon. Oh, and she’s a one-woman shop, so fedoras off to you, Liz.
NAME Liz Geddes
LOCATION 134 W. 29th St, Suite 809, New York, NY 10001
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND Brown University 2002; Certificate in Interior Design, Parsons The New School for Design 2012
COMPANY Octavia & Brown
ESTABLISHED 2009 (vintage rental shop in 2013)
Tell me a bit about Octavia & Brown and how you got started. Octavia & Brown is a vintage prop rental company, with styles ranging from Hollywood Regency, with a touch of Palm Beach to mid-century modern and rustic industrial. We believe that vintage rentals are the cool details that transform your event from ordinary to something people will be asking about later. All of our finds are hand-picked and come from estate sales and auctions across the country.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I would wake up early before school and on weekends to scour for treasures at estate sales and thrift stores with my Mom. My first big purchase at age 11, was a black Navy steamer trunk with brass nail heads – it was huge and heavy, but it was love at first sight. It’s been with me ever since and is still in the collection today. (It’s the ECG Trunk). Fast forward a few years, I bid adieu to East Coast and headed West with my sites set on San Francisco. While working in advertising and marketing, I would pack her flashlight and head over to Alameda Antiques by the Bay to scoop up the best vintage finds when the gates opened at 6am.
Following six wonderful years in San Francisco (and a few fantastic road trips across the country) I said goodbye to the West Coast and headed East to New York City where I turned my passion for vintage into a career. I launched Octavia & Brown online in December 2009. Buying and selling vintage was great, but after quite a few requests to rent my items for photo shoots and events, I made the leap to relaunch Octavia & Brown as a vintage prop rental business in 2013. I haven’t looked back since.
Is there a story behind the name? Haha, I always get asked this question. People always think my name is Octavia, but Octavia was really the street I lived on in San Francisco, where I first started dreaming of starting a vintage business. Brown is where I went to school. When I was brainstorming names, I liked how they sounded together.
For many years, you have been up before the sun scouring antique shops for unique finds. What steps did you take to transform your passion into a full-fledged career? Honestly, it took a leap of faith and the willingness to leave behind a steady career for something I was truly passionate about. Moving from San Francisco to New York felt the first step. Four years later, scouring through attics and thrift stores for amazing vintage finds still makes gets excited and now I love seeing how clients use my vintage pieces at events around the city.
When you’re perusing antique shops, what do you look for? What is it like traveling the world searching for those perfect items? Because Octavia & Brown spans so many categories (we do branded events, photo shoots, weddings and private parties), I try to keep current trends in mind while I’m out vintage hunting. I look at design and fashion industry trends for inspiration. When I’m out hunting for new finds, I always ask myself, “Is this something I would want in my own apartment?” If the answer is “yes”, that’s usually a good start. My passport is my most cherished possession. Traveling to a new place offers so much inspiration for my business and the rentals collection.
Your showroom is pretty fantastical! I would imagine it’s quite lovely to spend the day in there. What does your typical workday look like?As a one-woman shop, there doesn’t seem to be a typical day, but as soon as I’m up, I’m checking emails. Usually, I’ll head to my studio and start pulling rentals for that week and double checking what deliveries and pick-ups need to be made. I’ve been working on a number of collaborations recently, so I always try to set aside some time to brainstorm new partnerships and event ideas. At the end of the day, I’m usually looking up auctions and estate sales to attend over the weekend, or bidding on new items for the collection on eBay.
How did you get the word out about your company when you first launched? How have you handled marketing since? When I first launched in 2009, my marketing was mainly word of mouth. I come from an advertising/ marketing background, so I made sure I had a strong brand identity for my company. I told everyone I knew (and their friends and their friends’ friends), about my online shop. Today, I find that word of mouth referrals are still the best way to find new clients, however social media is playing more of an important role in my business. I’m addicted to Instagram and regularly share images from events we’ve done and new products in the collection. Collaborations and styled shoots have also been a great way to meet new clients and partners.
Let’s travel back in time a few years. What advice would you give yourself on the topic of entrepreneurship? I would say go with your gut and keep pushing forward. There were so many ups and downs when I first started the business (there still are), but I find I use the set-backs to reignite my passion and to work smarter. Having clearly defined goals helps keep me on track. I would also say, don’t be afraid of letting something go, if it’s not working, or taking up too much valuable time. Four years later, I am still learning that I can’t do everything myself.
Fast-forward five years. Where do you see Octavia & Brown? That’s a hard one, if you’d asked me five years ago, would I have vintage prop rental business in NYC, I probably would have laughed, however, it’s amazing what can happen in five years. In the future, I’d love to see outposts of Octavia & Brown in other cities, maybe in San Francisco, Chicago, or Philadelphia.
Guilty pleasure? Chocolate. Always chocolate.
Greatest antique find? A vintage Porter Chair from the 1950s- It’s a recent find, but I’ve be searching for years.
Cake or pie? Cake
Song that just never gets old? Tom Petty “Learning to Fly”
Spirit animal? A hummingbird